Five In, Five Out – Making Changes to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Everyone currently is ensconced in discussions about who will be the Class of 2021 for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I am going to step onto a rail that I often do not like to look, however. Imagine the scenario: suddenly John Sykes, the Chairman of the Rock Hall, has become incapacitated and you have been put in charge as only the third Chairman of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. For your first day, you can, on a ONE TIME ONLY basis, add five artists or groups to the Rock Hall. The trick is…you also must remove five artists or groups from the pantheon of rock gods.

Usually, I am not one who enjoys these mental exercises. Besides the fact that it is demeaning to an artist or group that worked their ass off to reach this pinnacle in their career, it also is a worthless use of brainpower because it isn’t going to change anything. At the end of the day, what I am thinking is not going to change what has already gone before – about the only way I am going to fix that is becoming good friends with Doctor Emmett Brown and tooling around in his DeLorean for a few hours.

It is human nature, however, to wonder about an “alternate history,” something that does fascinate me. There are plenty of books out there that offer a supposition of what the course of humanity would have been if a particular point in history changed. It is something that is also done in the military (wargaming is all about trying to deduce what would happen IF), in business and in gaming (figuring out what an opponent will do from different approaches).

One of my favorite streaming shows was The Man in the High Castle, the Amazon Video adaptation of the Philip K. Dick book. In that show, the Axis Powers won the Second World War and divvied up the States of America. A huge chunk of U. S. became a Nazi territory, the Pacific states were occupied by imperial Japan and a thin strip down the Rocky Mountains was left as an “Unclaimed Territory” that was essentially a “no man’s land” for those who looked to continue the war against the Axis. It was a terrifyingly realistic possibility, including the way that Dick saw how easy it would be for “Americans” to turn against their own, especially with a ruling Nazi Party or Imperial Japanese Army occupying the country.

What if the South had won the Civil War? What if John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated? What if 9/11 had not happened? These are things that many minds have considered, some realistically and some for dramatic effect. While it does not even come close to some of these monumental historical events in the human timeline, it is why I decided to change my mind and take on the question of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, at least on this occasion.

The only rule I held myself to is that, in my opinion, that the change I was making would be an IMPROVEMENT to the Rock Hall. I am not going to be intellectually lazy and say “(insert artist/group here) isn’t RAWK enough to be inducted” or “they don’t play RAWK music.” People who make this argument are simultaneously intellectually bereft and have no understanding of “rock and roll” history. I’ll try my best to make the argument for whoever I put in and whoever I take out – but it will not be based on the genre of music they do.

Let’s get it started, shall we?

Judas Priest IN – Bon Jovi OUT

There is plenty of other hard rock/metal bands that had much more impact and relevance on the development of the genre than Bon Jovi. A few of them are the aforementioned Judas Priest, Motorhead, Iron Maiden (on the ballot this year), Slayer, Anthrax, and Thin Lizzy, among many others. Judas Priest has, for 50 years, been the standard bearer for the music and, as such, they deserve to receive the acclaim they deserve while they all are still able to enjoy it.

Bon Jovi did little to have an impact on the genre. Basically, all Bon Jovi had was sales, which is not supposed to be a criterion for induction into the Rock Hall. It is reported that, upon hearing that the band had been nominated in 2018, Bon Jovi said “About fucking time.” That is not someone who is showing respect for the honor that induction into the Rock Hall is. If it had been my choice, they would have been waiting for a while longer, if not permanently.

Warren Zevon IN – Laura Nyro OUT

Zevon was one of the developers of the “California sound” that became prevalent in the 1970s. Many of the prominent artists from that decade – Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen and others – collaborated with him on his and their music or they performed his song. His storytelling and lyrical content were beyond compare; very few writers could come up with the twists of storytelling that Zevon could concoct.

Can you name a song that Laura Nyro had her hands on, either as a songwriter or as a performer? I know Nyro is one of those that is staked to the whipping post when it comes to inductions that the Rock Hall has made, but I have literally gone through her discography and cannot recall ever playing one of her songs or a song she wrote. It seems to me that Nyro was one of those inductions made by the Rock Hall to appear more “artistic.” That isn’t always a good idea.

Tina Turner IN – Stevie Nicks OUT

Tina Turner completely reinvented herself from her 60s image. In the 80s, she became a strong, vibrant performer who completely stunned audiences with the power of her work. It was such a departure from her previously inducted self (with Ike Turner, something that she might want to forget, too) that it more than deserves a second induction as a solo artist.

While Nicks is a tremendous performer, her solo work wasn’t that outstanding, to be honest. Already in with Fleetwood Mac, I do not believe that her solo efforts were that groundbreaking…entertaining, yes, but not groundbreaking. If you do not think Turner is a qualified choice for a second induction, then you would have to argue that Diana Ross as a solo performer was more deserving. Either Turner or Ross should have been the first female double inductee, not Nicks.

Kraftwerk IN – The Lovin’ Spoonful OUT

One of the biggest oversights by the Rock Hall has been its inability to induct the German band Kraftwerk into its hallowed halls. If there is a group that is identified with electronic rock – keyboard-based music – it would be Kraftwerk. Outside of Europe, however, the group had a difficult time finding success, especially in the U. S. This may be the exact reason that they have yet to be inducted into the Rock Hall despite being nominated six times and influencing entire generations of performers with their innovation.

The Lovin’ Spoonful were the beneficiaries of timing. Inducted in 2000, the band was around in an era when the Rock Hall voters were already through the truly immortal artists and were beginning to scramble around a bit to find qualified inductees to honor. In the years prior to the induction of The Lovin’ Spoonful, such questionable choices as Gene Vincent, Lloyd Price, Dusty Springfield, and Del Shannon were ushered into the Rock Hall. Just because you were struggling to come up with inductees should not be a reason to put someone in.

Joan Jett IN – Joan Jett OUT

I am sure that you are looking at that and saying, “How could you do that?” The simple fact is that Jett deserves to be in the Rock Hall. She was just inducted with the wrong group.

Jett’s work with The Runaways was by far more deserving of induction into the Rock Hall than Jett’s work with The Blackhearts (sure the guys in The Blackhearts enjoy hearing someone say that). The Runaways carried on the work of Fanny, The Pleasure Seekers, Janis Joplin, and Grace Slick to the next level – an all-female band that wrote their own stuff and played their own instruments. They were the forerunners to The Go-Go’s, The Bangles, The Donnas and several other all-female groups that have had great success following the glass-shattering by The Runaways.

I would rather see all those that I said should be “in” be inducted in their own right and leave the others in, too. They have earned the right to be called a “Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee” regardless of my personal thoughts. But if we are going to play the “alternate reality” game, who would you put in and take out?

Ranking the Nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: It’s a BIG Tent…

After a year like we’ve never seen, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is trying to get back to business…somewhat. The COVID pandemic that wreaked havoc on last year’s system is beginning to subside, which allows the Rock Hall to move forward with its activities. Along with those changes, however, the Rock Hall is showing that they’re spreading a BIG tent to cover their activities.

First, those changes. In 2019, the Class of 2020 was named and they would have been inducted in ceremonies in April of that year. Because of the pandemic, however, their induction was delayed until November, when it became a virtual party held on HBO. The Rock Hall used this delay to finally get all activities for a given year under a “calendar year” setting – nominations in February, name the class in May, induct in November – that should help in the future.

The changes aren’t just in the timing of certain mileposts on the way to naming the Class of 2021, either. This will be the first year that John Sykes, the former founder of MTV and current executive at iHeart Radio, will serve as the chairman of the Rock Hall. The original chairman and founder of the Rock Hall, Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone fame, resigned from the lead of the organization in January of last year. So, it is now Sykes’ ship to sail and, if the list of nominees for 2021 is any indication, he’s already putting his mark on the building.

For 2021, there are 16 nominees under consideration by the 1000-member strong Voting Committee, made up of the living members of the Rock Hall and a contingent of knowledgeable music veterans – musicians, label executives, historians, journalists, DJs, managers and the Fan Vote, who adds in one vote with the Top Five vote getters from their polling. These votes will be tabulated and, in May, the Rock Hall will announce five or six of these artists as the Class of 2021. They will also probably add at least one more inductee from their non-voting wings of the Rock Hall – the Ahmet Ertegun Award for non-musical industry influencers, the Award for Musical Excellence (formerly the Sidemen category) and the Early Influencers. The AME hasn’t been awarded since 2017, so it is probably due for an inductee.

Without further ado, I present my ranking of the nominees for this year’s honors, but I do have a caveat. My personal feeling on the artist DOES NOT impact whether they will get in or not. In some cases, they will probably get in despite my personal thoughts!

Let’s begin, from the bottom to the top!

16. Dionne Warwick – For the life of me, I’ve been trying to figure out how and why Warwick merited nomination to the Rock Hall. Yes, she’s had an excellent career that dates to the 60s. Yes, she’s recorded a couple of nice songs. But NONE of what she did was what you might call “groundbreaking” or “innovative.” She has a pleasant but not outstanding voice…hell, she doesn’t even have the best voice in her family (that honor would go to her cousin, Whitney Houston). And her best work was in collaborations and rarely on her own talent. This just reeks of “industry insider” BS, and that is not a reason to put someone in the Rock Hall.

15. Fela Kuti – To be brutally honest, I actually said “Who?” when he was announced, then zipped over to Wikipedia to learn more about him. He is a truly amazing individual who took on human rights and political abuses in Nigeria and created his own style of music – Afrobeat. If he is inducted, he would be the first African inductee into the Rock Hall.

With this said, I don’t see it. He had some influence on Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel, among others, but to say he was a seminal part of rock history would be an incredible stretch. Once again, with this said, he is probably going to be inducted. The Roots’ ?uestlove, who is on the Nomination Committee, has long been an advocate for Fela to be honored. Someone with the power of ?uestlove does not use his power to get you nominated unless he is going to use that same power to get you inducted.

14. Mary J. Blige – Definitely one of the preeminent female vocalists in R&B, but I tried to think of one song that she did that just blew me away. I came up with blanks. If they had used this nomination on Queen Latifah, then it would be much higher on the list. Blige seems like a “OK, she got a nomination – that’s enough” selection.

13. Chaka Khan – There have been several attempts to get Khan in with the band she was a part of, Rufus, and those efforts to this point have failed. This is wrong because the band, including Khan, deserves induction. Taken by itself, Khan’s solo career isn’t filled with material that stops you in your tracks.

12. Devo – The Rock Hall has an exceedingly difficult time with several genres. Funk, hard rock/metal and singer/songwriters are a few, but another would be electronic music. To this day, Kraftwerk is still waiting for the call to join in the Rock Hall (outside of Rick Wakeman and maybe Keith Emerson, has anyone used keyboards better?), and I do not expect there to be more love for Devo’s approach. The recently retired Daft Punk is sitting in the shadows watching this one.

11. Carole King – I personally think this is a more sentimental choice by the Rock Hall than a quality one. King’s masterful work, Tapestry, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021 and King is therefore getting more attention. But what did King do outside of Tapestry that made her a monumental figure in the history of rock? She’s already in the Rock Hall, a recipient of the Ahmet Ertegun Award with her songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, some would say that should be the extent of her recognition. Alas, don’t be surprised if she is voted in as a performer come May.

10. Tina Turner – If Turner wasn’t already in the Rock Hall with Ike, then I would be wholeheartedly behind this and it would be ranked much higher. But the tumultuous relationship between Ike and Tina is one that she would probably like to forget, and the Rock Hall would not be at all upset to get away from. Her 80s stylings were a complete departure from her previous heyday, so perhaps a second induction is appropriate for Turner.

9. LL Cool J – Someone who should have been in a lot sooner than this. The man known as James Smith has got another issue that he is going to have to deal with, however. There’s another rapper on the list who is all but a shoo-in to be inducted (more on that in a moment). But LL Cool J is being considered before a whole host of influential rappers that arguably should have been chosen first, including Eric B. & Rakim, Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc and Coke La Rock. That’s going to hurt his chances too.

8. Todd Rundgren – There’s a reason that Rundgren is this low on the totem pole. In recent interviews, the multimedia wizard has basically given The Bird to the Rock Hall, stating that it meant nothing to him to be inducted. The Rock Hall has absolutely no problem in abiding by the wishes of those that it is looking to honor – several years ago, Chubby Checker put a full-page ad in many trade magazines, talking about how the Rock Hall “wouldn’t define him.” They’ve never nominated the originator of “The Twist” (although the song was one of the first included in the Singles category at the Rock Hall) and Rundgren faces the same fate if this is truly his sentiment.

7. Iron Maiden – Much like LL Cool J, Iron Maiden is getting the nom over a litany of people who should have already been inducted – Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, and Motorhead, among others. They have also been quite loud in their distaste for the Rock Hall, so this may be a “one and done” nomination either way – either they’ll get in or they will be cast to the scrapheap because of their protestations. It’s too bad because they are more than deserving to be inducted.

6. Kate Bush – If the Rock Hall were in London, this would have been a no-brainer induction probably 15 years ago. Bush is arguably the most creative force in music from the 70s and 80s and has contributed heavily to the musical culture. Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Jewel owe her a debt of gratitude for blazing the trail.

5. The Go-Go’s – Flat out, this is the easiest bio to argue of these nominees. The Go-Go’s were the first female band to write their music, play their instruments and go to #1 on the charts with their first album, Beauty and the Beat. They also served as a link between the punk rock of the late 70s to the more “pop” version that was found in The Bangles. A more solid inductee would be hard to find.

4. New York Dolls – Along with 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Marc Bolan and T. Rex, the New York Dolls carried the banner for glam rock in the early 70s. They have been cited as influential in U. S. punk rock and its hard rock/metal movement. Guns N’ Roses owes a huge debt to the groundbreaking that the Dolls did on the scene.

3. Rage Against the Machine – Merging the worlds of rap, hard rock and political activism together, Rage Against the Machine did more in four albums than most bands do in a lifetime of work. They took the lead from bands like Mr. Bungle and Faith No More and put their political edge to work, bringing a great deal of attention to several causes. Their influence can also be seen in bands in the 21st century, including Papa Roach, Hollywood Undead, and Fever 333.

2. Jay-Z – If there is a reason that LL Cool J will not get inducted in 2021, it would be Mr. Shawn Carter. Jay-Z had an astronomical amount of success and influence in the rap world (my personal favorites are “99 Problems” and “Empire State of Mind” with Alicia Keys), but that wasn’t enough. He became a billionaire through his business acumen. Either one of those would be enough to get him inducted but, when you add in the factor of him performing at the Rock Hall Induction Ceremonies with special guest Beyonce (his wife), the Rock Hall is salivating at the possibilities.

1. Foo Fighters – If there has been any rock band that has carried the genre over the past 25 years, it would be Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl and Company have compiled a resume that hasn’t been equaled, although you can sometimes say that they play it way too safe. Grohl himself could have packed it in after Kurt Cobain’s death and Nirvana’s induction into the Rock Hall, but he chose to blaze his own path further into rock history. If he is inducted with Foos, Grohl would become the 24th person to earn double inductions (to this date, only Eric Clapton has been inducted three times, for his work with The Yardbirds, Cream and his solo career).

Who Is Going to Be Inducted?

The Rock Hall is looking to diversify their membership. That was something that Sykes stated when he took over the chairmanship of the Rock Hall last year. It isn’t an indictment of the Rock Hall’s previous work, but it is time that more women and more minorities were recognized for their contributions to rock history. That is going to be reflected by who is inducted this year.

If you listened to my show at Greater Manchester Rock Radio, I already laid out the list of who I believe will be inducted (and not my rankings above). Jay-Z and Foo Fighters are guaranteed inductees and, if there were two near-locks on the list, I would say that Carole King and Tina Turner will be joining the Rock Hall again. That leaves two more to consider (we will go with six inductees). The Go-Go’s will probably earn one of those two slots. Their history in the industry is just too influential to overlook – but that never stopped the Rock Hall from doing that! For the final slot, and just because I’d love to see what the band would do, I think that Iron Maiden will earn induction. But I wouldn’t at all be shocked if Fela Kuti wound up in somehow for the reasons I presented above.

Who will get in? If it is those artists who have trashed the Rock Hall previously, will they show up? Would it be another farce, such as Steve Miller’s induction in 2016? It would provide a spark to what is the 25th anniversary (the first induction ceremony was 1986) of inductions into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2021!